An Extraordinary AscensionErwin W. Lutzer | October 31, 1993
Selected highlights from this sermon
The ascension of Jesus was a movement from the visible to the invisible, the material to the immaterial, and from the finite to the eternal.
It also proved three things about the Lord:
- His ownership of Heaven.
- His headship over the church.
- His kingship over every dominion and power.
And when Jesus ascended into heaven, He went to prepare a place for us.
During the past several weeks I have been speaking on the topic Christ Among Other gods, and He indeed should be the king of who we are. Science, as we know, has made many strides in the last decades. We have explored outer space. We have even explored inner space. We know lots about the human body, but there is one area in which science, of course, by definition cannot do much research. And that is on the topic of what happens after death.
Oh I know that there is such a thing as near death experiences, but being near Chicago might not be the same as being in Chicago. Near death experiences are subject to different kinds of interpretation, and we should not build a theory of life after death upon those fleeting moments. Perhaps it is because death closes us off, and we walk behind that curtain where no one can peer or look. Perhaps it is because of that, that in all the other religions of the world, very little, if anything, is said about where the founders of those religions now are or what they are doing. I don’t think that any Muslim would necessarily claim to know what Muhammad was doing, or what Buddha was doing if you are a Buddhist, or what Zoroaster is doing today. And yet, in the case of Christianity it is very different because if you were here last week you know we spoke about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and gave strong evidence that indeed He was raised. In previous messages we stressed the deity of Jesus Christ, and so it should not come as a surprise that the Bible tells us where Jesus Christ went after He was raised from the dead, and where He is today. And we’ll see that the implications of the ascension for you and for me are absolutely awesome.
Well, take your Bibles and turn to Acts 1 where we have an account of the ascension. We have several of those in the New Testament but we look at Acts 1 where Jesus Christ led the disciples to the Mount of Olives, and there He was taken up into heaven in their presence.
Acts 1, verse 9: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” And that, by the way, is going to be the topic for next week’s message, the return of Jesus Christ. But I want you to notice that there were two things that happened. First of all, there was physical movement on the part of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ’s body was being lifted into the sky, and the Bible says that He was received by the clouds and He disappeared.
Scientists have sometimes rejected this account, saying it was based on a pre-Copernican understanding of the universe, where you have heaven above, and then you have the earth, and then you have the hell beneath. And they’ve pointed out that if you are in Australia, going up might mean to someone in the Middle East going down, and that when Jesus was raised into heaven, that is an entirely different direction than heaven would be if you were on the other side of the earth. But, of course, that’s not really the point, is it?
Heaven is a place. It is the place where God dwells, where He is localized even though we know that God fills the whole universe. Still there is a place where His glory resides in a particular way. But it is not only a place. It is also a state. It is a different kind of relationship, a different kind of reality. Now we don’t know where it is. Who knows? Maybe after Jesus Christ left the Mount of Olives He may not have continued on, on that same path. He may have gone off in a different direction. We do not know, but the bottom line is that Jesus Christ was changing the nature of reality for Himself. He was moving from the visible to the invisible, from the material to the immaterial, and from the finite to the eternal.
Now I want you to know today that the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven permanently changed the character of heaven forever. It was absolutely unbelievable. You see Jesus Christ, so far as we know, is the first man who ever entered into heaven with a resurrected human body. The first man! Oh, you say, “Well what about the saints in the Old Testament?” Well, when they died their body was taken and put into the grave, and then their spirit went to Sheol. Possibly their spirits went to heaven as well, but their bodies are still in the grave. They have not yet been resurrected. The resurrection is still future.
I know that there are the stories of Enoch and also Elijah. And we don’t know what happened to their bodies. Those could be exceptions, but one thing we do know is that the arrival of Jesus Christ in heaven certainly is the first time that Jesus arrived in heaven as the God-man. That we know. He was in heaven before as God because He was indeed filling the universe with His glory. But this is the first time that the angels observed directly in heaven deity and humanity joined together in one person forever. They must have been absolutely astounded when they saw Christ arrive. And to think that He is going to be a man forever, having assumed a human nature in Bethlehem, which continues throughout all the generations surely must have evoked their wonder and their worship.
Well, what I’d like to do today is to give you three different rights that the ascension of Jesus Christ proved for the Lord. What are those? First of all, the ascension proved His right of ownership. Actually, I need to tell you that He owns heaven. When Christ ascended into heaven there was no mediator there to open the door for Him. When Christ ascended into heaven it was not because He was granted special mercy that He might be able to enter. When Jesus ascended into heaven He was coming home because He had come from heaven, and He said, “Oh Father, glorify Thou Me with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” This was the entrance of a man who came to the heaven that He had created, of all things.
As it says in the book of Colossians, “For by Him were all things created, both which are in heaven and which are on earth.” The creator was coming back to a place, which He had created. Scientists tell us that the universe is infinite. I can’t argue with them. I don’t know whether it is or not, but this much I do know, and that is that Jesus is more infinite than the universe if you can think of it that way because I don’t believe that God would have ever created a universe that was as great as He Himself is. And here He is now, localized in a body, coming back to His creation, to that special place where the glory of God shines more brightly.
He was coming back as creator, but He was also coming back now as Savior. You see He had finished the work, which the Father had given Him to do. And it says in the book of Hebrews, “Having purged our sins, He sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high. His work on earth was done.” And the Scripture tells us that we should look to Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down on the right hand of throne of the Majesty on High.
He had a right to enter into heaven as creator – as God. Now He enters into heaven also as Savior. He had a natural right because of His deity, but now He has an earned right because of His humanity and the fulfillment of the will of God for His life. No wonder the angels must have been astounded as they saw Him come in. And they must have fallen on their faces and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, for the whole earth is filled with His glory.” He ascended into heaven because He owns heaven, and owns the universe. It was a mark of ownership.
Secondly, the ascension also was a mark of headship. You see when Jesus ascended into heaven He became the head of His church. Turn to Ephesians 1 where we can see this most clearly. In Ephesians 1 Paul is speaking about Christ at the right hand of God the Father, and he says in verses 20 and 21, talking about the strength which we have: “…that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come, (Paul did not want to leave any stone unturned. He didn’t want to leave out any possibility that this could be misinterpreted.) that He has dominion over every name, and not only in this world but also in the one to come, and He has put all things under subjection under His feet and gave them as head over all things to the church.”
Isn’t this exciting? When Jesus Christ came to redeem us and became one with us He had to become related to us before He would redeem us. When did that happen? The Bible says that God wanted to bring many sons into glory – many sons and daughters, and so Jesus Christ, you see, became one of us so that He could redeem us so that He could take us to heaven eventually, and so that He could form a new thing on the earth that we call the Church, and that this new thing that is called the Church was formed by Christ and He remains its head. And therefore, as its head He gives us strength. We derive our strength from Him. The Bible says that without Him we can do nothing, but we are joined to Him – inseparably united to Him. We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. And He directs us through His Word. As He is the Head of the Church, so He strengthens us.
He unites us. The fact that you are united to Jesus Christ and I’m united to Christ means that we are related to one another, and that we are actually joined as one in that body. He represents us. It says in the book of Hebrews that He is our High Priest, which stands in the presence of God. And Paul says that the reason that Satan can have no sense of condemnation over us, the reason that we need not be dragged back into those former sins that condemn us is because, he says, it is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again and is now on the right hand of the throne of God who also makes intercession for us. And that’s why Charles Wesley wrote,
Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”
The presence of Jesus Christ is in heaven today as your representative, as your attorney. We have an advocate, the Bible says. Jesus Christ the righteous means that God the Father indeed will accomplish the redemption, which God the Son purchased, and that Jesus is a constant reminder that His people are already there in heaven with Him because He is our representative head. He represents us. You know, it’s possible for you to live in Chicago and to win a court case in Los Angeles because you have an attorney there. In the very same way, we can live here on the earth and we can win every single court case against us in heaven because we have an advocate who stands in for us, and whose sacrifice on the cross is a guarantee of our acceptance in the presence of a holy God.
He strengthens us. He unites us. He represents us. May I say also that He accompanies us? As I was preparing this message I said, “I sure hope that the people don’t get the impression that Jesus is somewhere there in heaven detached from what is going on here in earth.” No! By His Spirit you know that He is present with us. But even the Jesus who was localized in the body, as we think about Him as being a man, He is with us as well.
For example, when Steven was being stoned outside of the city of Jerusalem, you find that the heavens opened and Steven saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father. Now you know that Jesus is always pictured in the New Testament as seated at the right hand of God the Father, and only in this one instance does it say He was standing. It’s almost as if He was on tiptoe saying, “Steven, remain faithful. Don’t let those stones cause you discouragement because the moment you die I am here to receive you. I am here to welcome you.”
And then I think of the Apostle Paul on the way to Damascus, and Jesus appears to him and says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And in effect Christ is saying, “Don’t you realize that when you take those Christians and you put them into prison, and when you are causing havoc among the Church and they are going through pain, I feel the pain of my people. Saul, why are you hurting Me?”
I want you to know today that Jesus Christ walks with you through that pain. Though He is in heaven (His body is in heaven), He is here by His Spirit, and He is watching us every moment and knows all about us and our needs.
The ascension of Jesus Christ was proof of His headship, and as I mentioned a moment ago, it was also proof of ownership, but thirdly, it was proof of kingship. Look at Ephesians 1 again, the passage that we read. And sometimes we read these passages all too quickly because there is so much in them. Notice what the Apostle Paul says in verse 21: “When Christ ascended it was far above all rule and authority.” Not just above – but far above. It says in the book of Hebrews that He passed through the heavens. What is it that the writers of the New Testament are trying to convey? Is it a matter of distance? No, it’s not the distance that is important. It is the dominion that Jesus Christ has.
It is a matter of triumph. It isn’t just a matter of traveling. What he’s trying to say to us is that Jesus Christ is thoroughly and completely above everything else that exists. We read it, didn’t we? “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named.” And that includes the names of other religious teachers and other religions. Jesus is exalted above all of them. It says in the book of Hebrews that He is crowned with glory and honor. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Do you realize today that Jesus will never be any stronger than He is today because he is already omnipotent and infinitely powerful? Do you realize that Jesus will never learn anything and He will never have more knowledge someday than He has today because He is already omniscient, and that means that He knows everything and has infinite wisdom? Do you know that Jesus Christ will never have a dominion that is bigger than the one that He rules over today because He is omnipresent and exists everywhere, and through His Spirit fills the entire universe? He is King!
Now I know what you are thinking. You are saying, “Well, is it reverent to even ask the question, “Is He doing a good job?” Is He doing a good job? Look at the headlines of the newspapers. Look at what some of you have been through. Look at the abuse that some of you have experienced, and Jesus didn’t do anything to help you, you think. Look at the misery index among Americans. I heard of a man who wanted to divorce his wife so he left, which is usually the first stage of the process. But then he was missing her, and he wrote home to her and he said, “You know I am as miserable without you as I would be if you were here.” What is Jesus doing in heaven, King of kings, Lord of lords? And look at what is happening on Planet Earth. Now my dear friend, you need to be able to distinguish between the present rule of Jesus Christ in heaven, which is a rule of divine restraint.
I’m going to ask you to turn to one other passage, and that is to Hebrews 10, which is going to shed a lot of light on what is taking place on Planet Earth. It says in Hebrews 10:12: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, (and now we’re at verse 13) waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.”
This is a time of waiting. He is King. He is Lord. But He is waiting. He is giving this planet an opportunity to prove that man cannot rule himself. God wants to prove that not only can men not rule themselves, but even men who are instigated and led by the devil cannot rule themselves. In fact, with that combination the mess even becomes worse as will become clear as we hasten on to the time of Jesus Christ’s return. So Jesus said, “I’m in total control, but this is a time of waiting.”
We have to distinguish between the time of waiting and then the time of winning. “When Christ returns to this earth then He shall judge among the nations and shall rebuke many people, and they shall beat their swords into plow shears and their spears into pruning hooks, and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” There is a time coming when Jesus Christ will yet rule over this planet, and men and women will be brought into subjection to Him, and no one will ignore Him. That time is coming.
It is the time when He also is going to come as judge, when there will be that final great separation between those who accepted Him and those who rejected Him. That time is coming, and then throughout all of eternity the kingdoms of this earth are going to be given to God the Father, and they will be ruled with God the Son, and He will be King of kings and Lord of lords over the universe forever.
The time is coming. But here’s what I want you to remember. Jesus is just as much in control during the time when He is waiting, as He is when He is winning. Jesus is just as much in control as He is ascended into heaven, as He will be when He descends upon planet earth. What does the text say in the book of Ephesians? It says that all things have been made subject to Him, whatever name is named in this world. And Paul makes sure that we don’t think that in the world to come there’s going to be a name crop up that will not be in subjection to Jesus Christ. He says, “Throughout all of eternity all things in subjection to this risen, triumphant, ascended Christ!”
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, that’s fine, but what does this mean to me, living with the pushes and pulls, and the miseries of this world?”
What should it mean? First of all, believe it or not, it should mean ownership. Do you know why? It’s because the Bible says in the book of Hebrews that when Jesus ascended into heaven and went behind the veil, He was the forerunner. He ran ahead of us, and He said before He left, “Behold I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am there ye may be also.” He is preparing a place for us, and because He is there, He is preparing it for His bride, that we might be with Him. And so we own heaven too. We really do.
In heaven there is a crown that only you can wear. In heaven there is a condominium with your name on it, and it says that there is a place reserved in heaven for you. When you get to heaven you don’t have all these long lines, as you do when you are at airports or wherever else you may find yourself, or efficient banks that we find in our society. You don’t have that problem in heaven. No, we have a place reserved and we march on through and we take up our residence that has been prepared by the forerunner.
What does it mean to you and to me? It means ownership. And you are just as sure that you will be in heaven as you can possibly be because your representative is there, and He’s making sure that every detail will be taken care of for your arrival. It means ownership.
It does not mean for us headship, but it does mean partnership. And it also means for us kingship. Now this is so staggering that I wouldn’t even say it unless it was in the Bible. But repeatedly there are passages like those in Revelation 22 where it says: “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him and they shall reign with Him forever and ever.” Christ’s ascension means ownership, but it also means for you and for me kingship.
Now get this. That which belongs to Jesus Christ by divine right is given to you and to me by divine grace. And when you stop to think of it, we shall never be what Jesus Christ is, for He is God, but we shall be able to enjoy all that Jesus Christ has because we shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and His death and His resurrection and His ascension are proof that those promises can be counted on.
You know that in the series of messages that I have given about Christ among other gods, we pointed out before that one of the serious criticisms that is constantly leveled at Christianity is the very negative view it has of human nature. Remember a few times ago where I emphasized and showed why human beings can have nothing to do with the doctrine of salvation except to receive the gift. It had to be totally of God because our own righteousness can never in any way reach the righteousness of God. And other religions don’t believe that. They actually think that through meditation and transformation we can become better, and eventually some even say we can even become our own god. And so Christianity is severely criticized. They say, “You know, you believe in that terrible thing called total depravity. I mean it even sounds awful.” Well, take a look into your heart and you might know why it sounds so awful.
But I want you to know today that there is no religion in the world that has such a negative view of human nature, but there is also no religion in the world that so eventually exalts man. And the teaching of the Bible is that we are taken from the mud to marble. And we are lifted from the pit and we are taken to the palace. No other religion says that someday we shall rule with our God forever and ever in personal contact with Him, King of kings and Lord of lords. And He is going to share with us the privilege and the honor of enjoying it with Him.
Now let me ask you this. What have you got going in your life that’s miserable? I want you to see it today as under the feet of a triumphant Christ. Oh, maybe Jesus isn’t doing anything about it, or at least not doing what you think He should, but He’s keeping records. He’s got it all under control. He will never know, as I mentioned earlier, more than He already does because He has infinite knowledge.
There was a reformer by the name of Savanna Rolla in Worms, Germany. There was a statue to Martin Luther, and Savanna Rolla is one of the pre-reformers who also has a statue along with three others who are known as the pre-reformers. Savanna Rolla lived in Florence, Italy, and he instituted reforms at a very, very dark time in the Christian church in the fourteen hundreds. And he actually had a burning of all of the various artifacts and sinful things that people were involved in at that time, and it was called the Bonfire of the Vanities. And here in the United States several years ago a movie was made by that name. I have no idea what the movie was about, but I do know that that phrase is right out of Savanna Rolla, who had the people bring their lewd books and their gambling devices (and everything), and they had a bonfire. But eventually Savanna Rolla was executed.
Now you know there’s something that has never happened to you. Right? You’ve never been executed. I’ve never been executed. You know, people say, “There’s a lot of bad news today.” Well, let me tell you something. There is no such thing as news. What we call news is only the same old thing happening to new people. There is no such thing really as news. There’s nothing that will ever happen to you that hasn’t happened to somebody else.
Why do I mention Savanna Rolla? Well, he was eventually put to death, but before he died he said in a sermon, and I guess, come to think of it, that would be rather logical. He would say it before he died. Are all of you with me this morning? Savanna Rolla said, “He who believes that Christ is above need never fear what happens below.”
King of kings! Lord of lords! God, a very God! And we belong to Him, and we’ll reign with Him forever and ever. And if you believe that He is above, even if you are executed, you need not fear what happens below. And if you agree, let us pray.
Our Father, today we want to thank You for the exalted, triumphant Christ. And Lord Jesus we confess that during this time of waiting it is so difficult. We wish that this were a time of winning, and yet Lord Jesus, we see You there as absolutely triumphant, and also triumphant over our circumstances, over our heartaches and our pains. And today, Father, we thank You for the fact that we belong to You. And we pray, oh God, that You’ll make us faithful.
Now there are some of you here who do not know Christ as your Savior. And I need to say that this message was not for you, but you could participate in its blessings if you received Christ in your heart. Why don’t you talk to Him? Why don’t you say something like this? “Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner.” You say that in your heart to God. “I know that I am a sinner. I know that I can’t save myself, but at this moment I accept Christ as mine that I might belong to Him forever, and participate in His rule.”
In His name we pray, Amen.